Are Your Letting Donors Kick the Tires?


Think back to the last time you bought a car. Was it from a dealership, or the used car lot down the street? You probably took it for a test drive – and had an opportunity to “kick the tires” as my dad used to say.

These steps are important. We want to inspect our new investment and make sure it meets expectations before making a big commitment.

But, are we providing this same opportunity to donors of our organizations?

One of my client’s was struggling with this.  We found it difficult to share the mission of this organization with donors unless it was through videos or photos.  These 3rd party vehicles are “OK” but not ideal. So we created a different approach and put the donor in the driver’s seat.

We invited donors to a special art class just for them that was sprinkled with a few of the agency’s clients for a meet and greet. This was the same type of programming our clients were involved with each week.

We filled the room with new donors and donor prospects. We didn’t charge them and provided light snacks. They were led by our instructor and learned how professional and well run the class was. They observed how each person’s experience was unique and tailored to them. This fun, low pressure introduction laid the groundwork for developing these relationships further and opened the door to conversations about future giving.

Could this experience be replicated at your organization?

For educators, could your donors get reserved seats to a graduation ceremony? For nonprofits focused on literacy, could donor attend a book presentation ceremony for students? For health organizations, could your donors visit one of your doctors for their annual check-up?

Think for a minute about what your donor might respond to and give them that opportunity.  After all, we are asking for them to invest in us. We should give them an opportunity to kick the tires, shouldn’t we?

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions


What are your SWOTs???


Early on in my career I received some good advice. My supervisor asked me to put together a Development Plan for the new fiscal year. Being new to the organization, I asked where the plan from the previous year was located.

Why? She asked.

Well, so I know where to start, I replied.

She told me she wanted to start with a SWOT analysis. At the next Development Committee meeting we took time to get feedback from our trusted volunteers. They shared what they thought were the organization’s Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. We shared our own insights as staff.

From that conversation, the Development Plan was born. It wasn’t a “save as” document where fiscal years were updated but strategies remained the same.

Instead a variety of new topics emerged and rose to the top. Even  better, we involved our volunteers in the process. They shared openly and had buy in with the ideas.

This was a valuable lesson and one I hope you will implement.

Our team steered the activities of the organization over the next year in a creative way that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We realized the need for new committee members, the need for a second appeal letter, and implemented a strategy to increase online giving.

So next time are planning for your organization take time to do a SWOT analysis first. It’s time well spent.

by: Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Summer Camp Learning


It’s mid-July and I’m pretty much camped out. Since school let out in early June, I’ve dropped my kids off at dance camp, tennis camp, soccer camp, swim camp and drama camp and we still have six weeks to go!

As a child, I “went away” for seven-weeks to ONE camp each summer in the heavily wooded, hilly terrain of Northern Ontario several hours north of Toronto. My time as a camper in a cabin with no electricity from kids all over the world obviously was a positive one as I repeated this summer trek “Up North” for the next nine summers transitioning from camper to Counselor in Training and eventually to a Counselor the last several summers.

My experience of camp was much different than the experience my kids are having at camp here in the City of Chicago, however the one constant is the focus each of the camps strives to convey. With each of the camps I’ve associated with this summer, there is a clear understanding of what the end goal is by the end of camp.  Each strives to show the campers a good time, but each has an obvious objective for the campers to learn specific skills and improve on based on the programs that each of the camps is offering.

In my colleague David Gee’s blog post, To Be Interested, which he shared back in April, he challenges us to remain focused on the understanding of donors. Not necessarily on persuading them right from the start early in the cultivation and relationship building process, but by putting your energies into being interested in them first.

The summer months are an opportune time to re-focus on understanding how we can learn from our everyday donor experiences. Are we learning from our donors on their giving habits? Are we gaining wisdom from our donors on how they are communicating with us both in the frequency as well as with the specific vehicle? Are we constantly evaluating the changing donor landscape and how they may be changing their expectations of us as fundraisers? We get our news differently in 2017 as we did in 2007 so how will we stay ahead of the changing dynamic in how people donate and what their expectations are of us in how we report, share results and show impact?

What have you learned from a recent donor interaction? What have you done to learn more about or from a lapsed donor?

The summer camp season is almost over, but learning from our donors will never end.

by: Tim Kennedy, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

What’s on your $ 1 Million Wish List?


During the campaign preparation process with one of our clients, a staff member recently offered up, completely unsolicited, a “$1 million idea” that she had developed. This particular individual knew that we were in the process of clarifying the campaign priorities and took the initiative to present a new program she wanted to see developed at the organization. It was an impressive move on her part, and one that also reminded me how important it is for organizations to have a list of potential funding options at the ready.

In my previous role as a development director for a public foundation, we talked with the executive directors and development staff at our grantee organizations about having just such a wish list on hand. The challenge was to have compelling and viable options at the ready and be able to answer the question, “Do you know what you would do with $1 million (or $5m or $10m) if someone came to you with that kind of offer?

There are a couple of things I specifically love about this exercise.

  • First, it is always a good idea to have a menu of funding opportunities on hand to offer your donors in the event they either have interests outside of your current funding priorities, or they are inclined to make an impact investment  beyond the scope of your current ask.
  • Additionally, going through the process of discovery and creating your “what if” menu is a great way to engage the people who care about and have a stake in your organization’s future and to get everyone thinking about impact.

Do you have such a list? Is it something you update regularly or share with your board members and key donors to get their feedback on?

In my experience, as long as the conversations are framed appropriately (so that everyone’s expectations are clear), discussing what ifs with your program staff, donors, current/past board members and other key folks in your organization is not only a smart planning strategy, it’s also a great way to engage people in thinking creatively about your future and focusing together on how you might have an even greater impact.  I mean, who doesn’t like to dream big, right?

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

It’s Springtime… what are you hoping to grow?

Macro image of spring lilac violet flowers, abstract soft floral background

The tulips, trees, lilacs and just about everything else is in bloom here in the Chicago area. It is quite a welcome and energizing sight. And, while the natural blossoming of springtime is a spectacle worthy of enjoyment, depending on your circumstances–this is also the perfect time to seed and fertilize your lawn or to get after working the soil and planting your garden. In other words, now is a great time to get busy in preparation for summer and the eventual fall harvest.

In the world of non-profits… spring is also the time for gala season and, for many with a June 30th target, the final push to make our fiscal year-end a success. These are necessary and critical pursuits, for certain.

However, this is also the perfect time to look at our community of donors, volunteers and colleagues to determine who it might make sense for us to pay some extra attention to. Where can and should we be focusing some of our energies to help ensure our fundraising efforts will blossom in the months ahead?

  • Is there a current or former board member that you have been meaning to connect with, but the actual outreach seems perpetually stuck on your pile of good intentions?
  • Are there folks on your program staff that, despite your best laid plans, you never get around to talking to about what is new and exciting?
  • Are there a couple of donors that you feel – if you just had the time to get to know them better and discover a bit more about how their philanthropic priorities align with your mission – that they might be poised to make a significant investment?

If we fail to tend to our garden of opportunities we — and more importantly our organizations and the people we serve — will undoubtedly miss out on the potential bounty that comes with nurturing deeper connections and fostering increased engagement. So, by all means, keep on track with your near term goals. That is an absolute necessity. However, it is just as crucial that you don’t miss your chance to identify and cultivate relationships that could ensure a more impactful fundraising harvest between now and the end of 2017.

So, let’s all roll up our sleeves and get busy. And be sure to let us know how things work out for you at harvest time.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Be Interested


When my wife and I first found out we were going to become parents, I started collecting quotes and bits of advice that I wanted to share with our children as they grew up. Some are obvious, some silly and still others likely won’t have meaning for them until much later in life.

The other day, I found myself repeating to our youngest one of the nuggets I have shared on multiple occasions with both of our boys:

Instead of trying too hard to be interesting, put your energy into being interested.

 I won’t say it is my favorite quote of all time, but the number of occasions on which it was apropos of sharing over the years clearly indicates that it is a worthy reminder.  And, while I am unable to pinpoint who deserves attribution for the original idea – as evidenced in part by the variations here from Dale Carnegie and John Gardner – I am definitely an advocate of its practice.

“It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don’t you invest more time being interested?”                                                                                                                                                              -Advice from John Gardner to Jim Collins

While there has yet to be an occasion when I’ve offered up this advice to my boys regarding fundraising, it is absolutely a habit that can and should be embraced by every development professional–and fundraising volunteer for that matter.

We all know that we should be focused on our donors’ needs and on their agenda, but how often do we find ourselves in conversations where we are more focused on persuasion than on understanding? Whether it’s meeting someone at an event for the first time, a one-on-one cultivation meeting or a gift solicitation, there is little doubt that the most effective and engaging approach is to focus our energies on their interests/stories/needs.

If your focus is on being interested, you will have a much greater opportunity to Build Meaningful Connections. As part of our capital campaign preparation efforts, I once again have the honor of participating in engagement interviews for one of my current clients. It is an hour long conversation where I simply ask for their thoughts, ideas and perspectives. The conversations are designed to learn about what drives our donors and volunteers and how the organization’s work aligns (or doesn’t) with their personal priorities. And I can say with absolute certainty, that each of these encounters creates a deeper sense of connection to the organization because our donors feel valued and heard.

When you spend more of your time listening and trying to discover what matters most to your donor(s), the odds of experiencing a Successful Solicitation increase dramatically. If we come at our donors with an avalanche of information about our needs without ever finding out theirs, we all but guarantee that we will fail to inspire them to give a gift that matches the level of their personal philanthropic passions.

For consultants and other business professionals, the practice of being interested is also critical when you are working to Engage a New Client. Our team was recently awarded a new client contract after a fairly intense process. The CEO told us that one of the keys to our success was the fact that, to a person, everyone we talked with – from executives, to Board members to junior level staff members – they all said that we didn’t just come in an make a case for why we were the best, we listened and we were honestly interested in what they had to say.

So, the next time you’re preparing for an important conversation, make sure that you are focused on what the other person is most interested in. Making the conversation about their needs and their interests will undoubtedly result in you having more success in achieving your goals.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Listen Up!


I recently took my 81 year old mother to the doctor, and, as I sat in the exam room with my her and our family doctor (yes, my mother, my sister and my children all go to the same physician) I was moved by the strong connection that my mother has with our doctor.  Our doctor is not only seasoned in her profession, but she is genuinely warm and kind, and one of the best listeners that I’ve ever met.

As a member of the sandwich generation – like many of us, I am managing my own household of children but I’m also finding that my aging parents need more of my time and attention.  Not only is this a change for me, but, also for my mom.  She has always been and is still is a fiercely independent woman…having emigrated from Germany  to the US  in her late 20’s with a one-way boat ticket back to Germany and a few hundred dollars in her pocket just in case this didn’t work out.

Navigating these new waters can be challenging…and we are all learning as we go.  It is a delicate balance…how much do I step in? Am a good listener?  In what ways can I help my mother feel that she is in charge and can make her own decisions?

I thought about this visit recently and how it ties to the work that we do as development professionals.  Do we listen to our donors?  Do we make our donors feel empowered and engaged in the work that they are supporting? Do they feel invested?

I recently visited with a donor of one of my clients and I asked her how she became involved with this particular agency.  She shared some of her personal stories and I learned a lot about why she has continued her support.  I learned some things that I hadn’t known before that would be key for the next time she is approached for a gift.  The most important thing I did during that one hour meeting was to listen.  I kept my mouth shut.  When I opened it, I told her some new things that have happened because of her generosity.  I shared some personal stories of clients and how they benefited from the agency.

Sometimes we get so busy with “reporting the news” to our donors that we forget to simply sit back and really listen to the things they want to share with us.  Our family doctor reminded me through her actions that listening is critical to building and maintaining relationships in our personal lives as well as in our lives as development professionals.  So, the next time you schedule a visit or a phone call with a donor, make a concerted effort to… sit back and listen.

by: Susanna Decker, Senior Consultant HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Engagement through Mission Moments

mission moments

by Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultant, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

I am working with a nonprofit that has a generous Foundation partner. We have never done anything particularly “special” for this partner aside from our typical thank you letter after the gift is received.

But this year, we kicked it up a notch “BAM!” (thank you Emeril Lagasse)

We invited members of the Foundation to lunch while programming was going on in an adjacent room. The funders observed our participants (who have disabilities) painting and talking with our art therapist. They discussed which color they should use next and learned a new scratch-painting technique. After lunch, we introduced our funders to the participants. What a connection was made! The participants were eager to show them the projects they were working on and even took them to see  their pottery in another room that had recently been fired in the kiln. The Foundation representatives loved the spontaneous tour and were even given pieces of art to take with them as mementos of the day.

This experience was casual, fun and most of all meaningful for the donors. They really got to see how this program was helping the individuals develop knowledge about art as well as instill a sense of pride and passion. I would encourage you to take inventory of these types of opportunities you can provide your donors. Meet with colleagues in the program service area to brainstorm. Consider scheduling these experiences quarterly and invite a few select donors to sit in and become immersed in the mission. It will be unforgettable to them and will be easy for you and your staff to plan.

Fundraising & Dating…a potential marriage?


by Tim Kennedy,  HUB Philanthropic Solutions

I recently read an article shared by a friend on the topic of dating. The article was based on a college story going back 20+ years dealing with a bad breakup then the ultimate avoidance of dating because of the fear of rejection and failure. The article went on to make the point that with rejection also comes opportunity and then ultimately success by getting back in the game which in this case the rejected had to call on quite the number of prospects to land the one.  I never really took into account how dating in many cases correlates very closely to the fundraising world, especially the solicitation process (albeit removing the intimacy aspect of it obviously!).

It may seem like a stretch to compare dating to fundraising but if you think about it through the lens as a fundraiser it actually makes a lot of sense. Effective dating starts with establishing a relationship, getting to know your date, learning details on their background, their education track, classifying their personality, identifying what their interests may be….all things we do when researching a current or prospective donor.

When it comes to stewardship, it’s really not much different. We have to show our suitor that we are interested in them and what they can bring to the table and to our relationship.

And then there is the reality of rejection and failure. We don’t land every gift. We don’t always have perfect solicitation calls (admit it, it’s true!) and we do get rejected from time to time (admit it again, it’s true!). However, with rejection comes opportunity to learn from the donor visit. Usually we get insight on how to improve for next time or what not to say or do again, and hopefully a chance to ask again at some point in the future. From the dating perspective, it’s no different as every interested person may not return a call, email or text, the first date isn’t perfect, breaking up happens and through it all we learn and get a better sense of what makes us happy and what we need to work harder on or avoid in a relationship.

As a fundraiser, we know all too well that the answer is “no” if you don’t make the ask. Fundraising success is built and based on a sound plan, great execution, close relationships and numbers….lots of them.  To execute any fundraising plan, it is subject to a numbers game as there must be a certain number of calls, visits and asks. Give them the chance to say no…don’t give them an out by not asking. All things one must do to land a date!

Whether you are in the camp that sees relationships as superior to numbers or in the camp that believes you can’t have numbers without relationships the bottom line is they are both necessities to be successful at growing the organization and having success with your fundraising.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”

— Robert F. Kennedy

Old School



by: David Gee – Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions

Many of us are in the thick of wrapping up our year-end appeals and all of us are ramping up for the start of the New Year. (Hopefully with a little time to reflect, restore and re-engage in between.) In the midst of all of that, we’re also starting to think about our professional New Year’s resolutions.

Technology has absolutely changed the ways in which we interact with our donors, volunteers and prospects. We are driving online donations, sending email acknowledgements and sharing our stories via e-news and through social media. In some cases, we are engaging donors, board members and others through text messages. All of these allow us to work faster, reach farther and, in many ways, do our work more cost effectively.

And this is all good… to a point.

Last night, my family enjoyed a “blast-from-the-past” encounter. My boys and a friend of my college-aged son were playing a board game in our living room. The “low-tech” encounter inspired me to play a few records on my grandmother’s Victrola.  They got a kick out of the nostalgia and my youngest even remarked that the records weigh like ten times more than his iPod. Now, they certainly wouldn’t trade the convenience of their Apple products for anything, but the conversation about music that was inspired by the old player and the 78 RPM records was pretty awesome.

Reflecting on all of this when I started writing this post, it dawned on me that sometimes… “Old School” is indeed pretty cool. So here’s my question — when was the last time you received a hand-written letter, card or note from someone when it wasn’t your birthday and/or they didn’t have an agenda?

My guess is that it has been quite a while for you and that the same is true for your donors.

So how about this… as 2015 winds to a close and 2016 kicks off, let’s all resolve to go old school from time to time.

I will be sending out handwritten thank you notes to some key folks over the next few weeks. I want them to know that they matter enough to me to make the time to do so. I want them to feel special because, well… because they are. Then I am going to keep my snazzy new TUL pens handy as I continue reaching out the old fashioned way all year long.

And, I invite you to do the same. Get your favorite pen out (maybe listen to some of your favorite “old” music) and make it a priority to hand write notes that make your donors feel special. Focus on it as a very real opportunity for engagement and don’t allow it to become a chore. We know our donors (and volunteers) are going to be getting a lot of auto-replies and emails from other organizations, so this is a chance to stand out from the crowd, rise above the clutter and show them they how important they are.


David Gee is a seasoned development professional with particular expertise in capital campaigns, major gifts and donor stewardship. David joined the HUB Philanthropic Solutions team after serving as The Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Development. Prior to that, he spent 18 years working as a professional actor in Chicago. Among his volunteer activities, David serves on the Donors Forum’s Resource Development Committee, the Development Committee for All Chicago and as the Local School Council Chair at Beaubien Elementary School.